In the last decade DJI has revolutionized the aerial photography and video industry. When they introduced the Phantom they introduced aerial video and photography to an entirely new atrarket.
Working with the Phantom 2 with a Zenmuse X3 gimbal since 2014 we rarely used it as the images and operability of the drone just didn’t live up too the level of production we hoped. In 2016 though at Jamestown Films we took the step though to purchase the Inspire 1 X5R. Based on some previous experience with it we were confident we could reach the quality we needed for our productions.
When Inspire 1 was introduced in November of 2014 with the X3 camera we were immediately excited with the capabilities the drone could offer its pilots. When they upgraded the camera in early 2016 to the X5 and X5R it made us wonder just how competitive the Inspire 1 X5R would be with larger drones that could fly with a full camera system. We have seen a long time drone operator switch from full camera system commercial drones to the Inspire 1 X5R. He told us that it is the best decision he ever made.
Lets take a look at the DJI Inspire 1 X5R. If a pilot comes from a commercial drone like the Matrice, they will first notice the compact case that the Inspire 1 comes in. If the pilot comes from a Phantom, they will notice this huge brief case that they will now have to lug around. The Phantom is more portable, but lacks the image and operability that the Inspire 1 gives you.
The Inspire 1 drone is more competitive with the Matrice and should be compared to the Matrice system. The Inspire 1 X5R requires far less equipment to operate. We loved that we didn’t have to drag cases for the gimbal, drone, camera and lenses around to obtain a high level arial image.
The Inspire 1 X5R includes one battery, two remotes, an Inspire 1, and the X5R camera which comes in a separate hard case within the Inspire case. To truly operate and shoot for a day you will need more than one battery. Each battery has about a 35min of flight time. I like to have at least 3 batteries for straight forward shoots where I wont need to have multiple takes. But, If the shots are more complicated and needing multiple takes I would prefer to have 5 batteries or more.
The main controller operates the drone with DJI GO app available on iOS or Android. DJI has made an excellent app that turns your phone or iPad into a first-person view, also known as an FPV, monitor. Your iPad or iPhone isn’t just a monitor, you can set focus, exposure, check histogram and get all of the information that you could ever want right at your finger tips. This app makes it a pleasure to be both the pilot and camera operator.
When operating in dual remote, where one person is the pilot and the other is camera operator, the camera operators remote piggybacks off of the pilots remote receiving a video signal from their controller. Both the pilot and camera operator share a camera view. This can become a problem in two ways. 1.) if the operator is far away from the pilot the FPV starts crashing and makes controlling the drone difficult. 2.) As the camera operator moves the camera around, as a pilot, you loose all sense of direction often times making getting the shot near impossible.
The Inspire 1 drone generally operates though with intuitive ease, making it a pleasure to fly and operate as a pilot in single operator mode. The dual operator mode needs some major improvement, which have been answered by the recently announced Inspire 2. For example, they add a flight camera that is just for the pilots FPV, while having the ability to view the shot in a smaller window. And more object avoidance sensors.
The X5R is capable of capturing incredible images for such a small camera. The specs for this little camera are impressive with 12 stops of dynamic range and a 4K raw .DNG recording option. The quality is absolutely amazing. While recording raw it also records a .mp4 reference file for reviewing the shot or quick access.
Color correcting and grading the raw images produced by this sensor is, well, Inspire-ing. The ability of the image to bend and not break makes it able to match many high end cameras. We’ve seen this footage cut in with RED Scarlet-W and an Alexa Mini footage with ease.
One drawback to be aware of is that this is not a low light camera. Its sensor is micro 4/3s and noise can become significant if you go too far up with the ISO or need to lift the the exposure too much on an underexposed image. Great thing though is that with the raw data in the .DNG files, the shadows, though grainy, can be recovered. We’ve had good results with the Neat Video plugin de-noising the image for an excellent low light end result, but it adds more steps and time to post production.
Examples from a couple of projects we’ve worked on recently where we used the Inspire 1 Pro RAW:
MOUNTAIN TRAILS FINE ART | JEFF HAM (quite a few shots at the beginning):
FIBER FIX (shots scattered throughout):
As great as the benefits of raw are, there is one big drawback. That is the post production workflow. For one thing, raw files take up a lot more drive space. So plan accordingly. After a shoot you remove the proprietary DJI SSD from the X5R base and insert it into a DJI dock. You have to then open DJI Cinelight (for Mac) or DJI Camera Exporter (for Windows) and from there either transcode to whatever flavor of ProRes you would like, or export the raw footage to folders of raw .DNG files. This process can take a long, long time. Hours. The files unfortunately can not be accessed through the file browser before processing through Cinelight. So, there is no drag and drop option with the Inspire 1. This has been addressed with the Inspire 2 and we’re hoping that functionality comes to the Inspire 1 as well via firmware update. This is the biggest draw back to the X5R. It adds so much time to the offloading workflow that shooting all day in raw requires multiple, expensive, DJI SSD’s.
We prefer to get ProRes 4444 XQ out of DJI Cinelight for three reasons. One, ProRes is a great editing codec. It has great playback performance and renders quickly. Two, 4444 XQ maintains near raw quality. Many features films are shot directly to 4444 XQ. Three, FCP X, unfortunately, does not have true image sequence, imported as a clip, support. There’s a simple enough compound clip workaround, but if you have many shots that gets annoying. If you are someone on Windows prepping footage for someone on FCP X then output to .DNG sequences. Then the editor can run those through Compressor or DaVinci Resolve to create ProRes 4444 XQ clips. Luckily the Inspire 2 RAW has addressed and simplified the whole workflow and can now record directly to ProRes!
The Inspire 1 X5R is an excellent drone system that spanned the market gaps between low and high budget video.
The Inspire 1 X5R is an excellent drone system that spanned the market gaps between low and high budget video. It over lapped into the high end commercial drone world. The affordability and portability of the Inspire 1 make it, for most people, a first choice when considering which drone to purchase. This drone’s ability to fly at high speeds and with precision makes it a great pleasure to operate, but the lack of a pilot FPV makes dual operation difficult. We absolutely love operating this drone and believe that it is a unique and boundary breaking tool for the media world.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
This guest blog post is from Braden Storrs and Patrick Newman.
About Braden Storrs:
I’m a Utah based editor and video creative. As post production manager at Jamestown films I’ve had the chance to work with some great people on great projects and continually improve our techniques and workflows in an ever changing digital landscape. I am also the creator of the Final Cut Put X Editors Facebook group and can can be found at @thefcpeditor on Twitter. I love trying to elevate each project a little more then the last. In the end, I’m a storyteller.
About Patrick Newman:
I am a DP located in Salt Lake City, Ut. Over the past year I worked at Jamestown Films with their wonderfully creative team. “The Story Teller” has taught me about story telling side of cinematography and the roll it plays in creating an excellent story. Jamestown gave me the chance to grow rapidly as a DP in the commercial world. This has given me the chance to work with just about every camera in the industry, helping me perfect my technique as a DP. Recently I have moved on to DP a few feature documentaries over the 2017 summer. Find me on instagram @patricknewman170